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Ralphie wearing sunglasses

Cats versus dogs (why woof gets my vote)

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I have a dog and am wildly allergic to cats. This could be a very short post couldn’t it…

I could curate some accurate and amusing meme here to help showcase my preference for dogs over cats, but that would be cheating.

This post, after all, is one in a weekly series (oops, we missed last week, sorry) in which Kate Owen and I challenge each other to write about something – anything – to update our somewhat dusty blogs. And this week’s post is cats versus dogs. So…

I’ll start with cats because this is easy. Aside from the usual cat qualities, I’m allergic, they make me sneeze, itch all over and hinder my breathing. So I tend to avoid them at all costs. Makes sense, right?

My oldest child. And the cleanest?

The same can’t be said for Ralphie, my almost six-year-old Cocker Spaniel (who has his own Facebook page btw) who knows he should bark wildly at them and chase them, but after that he’s at a loss. If he ever gets close enough to almost catch a cat, he does a speedy u-turn and runs in the opposite direction like he’s forgotten his wallet or something. If dogs had wallets, of course. Ralphie’s chosen currency would probably be gravy bones or chicken slices over cold, hard cash.

Pushing his cat confusion to one side, Ralphie is my oldest child, my black, hairy, four-legged, faithful and reliable child. And probably the cleanest. We collected him one sunny day from a layby off the M25 (sounds dodgy, it was a legitimate exchange) and he’s been at the core of our family ever since.

12036379_1169252879757034_1896091512501141259_nSave for a short period when we had human child number one and there was lots of crying and not a lot of sleep (Ralphie looked at us regularly with eyes that said ‘what have you done!?’) he’s been very happy to be a Bateman.

He makes his presence known by persistently dragging our shoes from the hallway to the family room, nicking off with the kids’ favourite bedtime toys just before bedtime, and rushing to our feet the second the fridge door is opened. He also takes up all the room on the bed (yes, something has come between Richard and I – it’s Ralphie) and has the longest eyelashes in the world. I love him.

Best house guest ever

But my love affair with dogs started when I was a kid. Mum left for work one morning with instructions that, after school, we needed to make sure the house was tidy because she was bringing special visitor home. And we obeyed, the house was immaculate when she walked in that evening with… Henri, a blue roan Cocker Spaniel! We – my brother and I – were giddy with excitement. Best. Visitor. Ever! Until in he did a poo in my bedroom…

He was part of our family, loved us loyally, and was so soppy we could sit him at the table with a tea towel round his next and feed him with a knife and fork. True story.

Hurt them and I’ll hurt you

Cocker Spaniels are a lovely breed and I’d definitely have another one. In fact, baby number three is off and dog number two is on (at some point in the future, at least). I remember a vet saying that all dogs love you but Cocker Spaniels REALLY love you. And this is true of both Henri and Ralphie, both choosing to lie, if not on you, somewhere where all human movements can be monitored from a lying down position. And they’re a fantastic breed with children; I can trust Ralphie implicitly not to run off, not to bite and not to eat the kids’ biscuits. Okay, that last one isn’t strictly true.

12540928_1222678077747847_6754879257909777303_nSo it’s cats 0, dogs 10 for me. Every time. But with that said, I am a general lover of all animals and the single thing I hate most about Facebook (and there are a few) is the number of animal cruelty posts I see. I scroll past them super fast, not wanting to be reminded how sick some people are to hurt such innocent creatures when their only ask is to be loved. If you won’t love an animal, can’t treat it with respect, manage its needs, care for it, afford it, respect it, then don’t get one. Whatever that animal may be. They’re a commitment, like children, and you should be in it for the long haul. Hurt animals, be it on TV, cases of cruelty or just sad stories can fill me with tears in an instant. People hurting animals makes me want to hurt people.

Eek, sorry, that just got a bit heavy didn’t it. Moving on… I often joke that I’d love to swap lives with Ralphie, he’s got it good. And that’s all that he deserves in payment for loving us, making us laugh, getting us out in the fresh air and preparing us, in part, for the commitment of having children. Dogs rock.

PS Kate (a cat owner) and I need inspiration for next week’s blog post or we’re at risk of writing about saggy eyelids. I kid you not. Ideas welcome!

Oh poo, we’ve lost Pooh!

It was over a year ago now that he moved in with us. We weren’t expecting to take on a lodger, particularly not one naked from the waist down, slightly jaundiced and with a penchant for honey. But we soon warmed to him and it wasn’t long before he’d semi-permanently nestled his way under my daughter’s arm, and was sleeping in her bed. All, rent free.

It was Halle’s first birthday and Pooh Bear, a gift from my little sister, had been unwrapped and discarded along with all the other presents. But as friends and family exited the celebrations, one by one, Pooh remained. Halle picked him up, tucked him under her arm and, fast forward 17 months, and it’s where he still spends most of his time.

Halle loves PoohHe’s been everywhere with us from shopping trips to theme parks, family and friends’ homes to hotel rooms and Spanish villas, from Christmas fairs to meals out, beach trips to picnics. And he’s travelled by plane, car, taxi, bus, bike and pushchair. And if Halle isn’t carrying him around, her younger brother is having a quick hug before she notices, or Ralphie the dog is using him as a cushion on the sofa. He’s loved by all of us, one of the family. And while our yellow, furry lodger doesn’t pay rent, we’ve had our money’s worth out of him. He’s been puked on, weed on (no poo on Pooh, thankfully), dropped in mud and covered in paint and crayon. He’s spent a fair bit of time going round and round in the washing machine and he’s had a couple of stitches in his leg. I fear his ear has a hole in it and his bum area looks close to splitting. He’s also less yellow now, and more dirty.

Pooh + potty training = confusing
He appears in family photos, he sleeps in Halle’s bed, has breakfast, lunch and tea with us, waits patiently in front of the TV while Halle has her bath, and snuggles into her when she drinks her pre-bed milk. He’s there when she falls and hurts herself, when she’s ill or tired and grumpy. And he was always close by during potty training, which was confusing – does she need a poo or Pooh? Silly name for a bear.

In short, he’s always there. Until…

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Five for Friday: people stories

I love people and hate people. Actually, scrap that, there’s no one I really hate, it’s just sometimes folk can be so frustrating. But it’s also people – nice ones – who keep me going.

I’ve probably always known this, but it’s been clearer these past few weeks as I’ve been developing some case studies at work, but I’m most definitely hooked by people stories. Journalism, for me, is always about people and even the headline news – the other week it was the budget, a big string of complex numbers and mathematical signs and men in suits shouting each other – are made more real by normal people. Usher in the pensioner who’ll struggle to stay afloat, or the single mother on Radio 2 before Easter who confessed to not being able to afford three meals a day, and suddenly those numbers and political arguments have meaning.

I probably discovered my love for people stories when I was a rookie report. I spoke to an elderly gentleman and author of The Trenchard Brat, one man’s tale about his life in aviation, told to me from the armchair of his living room in his Shropshire home. I remember that interview, of being hooked by his story, and the two hours I spent with him being way longer than I needed for a feature article in the Shrewsbury Chronicle. But he was a lovely old man with some lovely stories to tell, and he told them so well, from being given brandy as a baby to overcome illness, to wartime tales from the skies – when aircraft engines actually killed more pilots than enemies:

Frederick Wilson’s book still sits on my bookshelf,  the copy he gave me all those years ago, and signals the start of my love for people stories. Which brings me on to my Five for Friday, people stories:

1) The lovely – and inspiring – author Julia Crouch spoke about her drastic career changes and discovering a passion and talent for writing while studying creative writing with The Open University. She says it changed her life; she now writes full time and is utterly content with her career. Lovely lady, and she gave me some useful tips too. Here’s the interview.

2) The next story has a Downton Abbey connection – and who doesn’t love a bit of Downton Abbey!? I spoke to Kevin Doyle, the actor who plays Joseph Molesley in the hit period TV drama…

3) Caroline Boyle is a former Olympic cyclist with an arts degree. Can sports and arts coexist? She certainly thinks so…

4) Carrie Walton is a blogger and all round lovely person, who I have the pleasure of dealing with on a weekly basis for work, and is also helping me out on an MA project I’m currently working on (the fruits of this labour are coming soon). She says it’s the green-eyed monster that spurs her on to try new things but I have to admire her ‘go get ’em’ attitude. Anyone who writes a letter to their own fat gets my vote :0)

5) Another victim of my MA project is Violet Fenn, author of The Skull Illusion, an online repository of post mortem photography. Sounds grim, but it’s actually pretty beautiful, and huge thanks to Violet for letting me into her home, introducing me to her snoring dog and talking about blogging. Which reminds me, I need to find my niche! (My audio interview with Violet is coming soon!)